The third edition of the Premier Badminton League starts on Saturday with the first match being played between Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. The tournament marks the end of the badminton calendar. Here is what on offer this year.

Costliest player

HS Prannoy became the costliest player in PBL history when newcomers Ahmedabad Smash Masters picked him up for Rs 62 lakh at the auction in October. The 25-year-old’s salary went up by almost 150 percent, compared to the Rs 25 lakh tag he had been bought for by the Mumbai Rockets last year.

HS Prannoy (Rs 62 lakh), Ahmedabad Smash Masters

Tian Howei (Rs 58 lakh), Delhi Acers

Kidambi Srikanth (Rs 56.1 lakh), Delhi Acers

Shin Baek Cheol (Rs 55 lakh), North Eastern Warriors

Chris Adcock (Rs 54 lakh), Chennai Smashers

Viktor Axelsen (Rs 50 lakh), Bengaluru Blasters

Carolina Marin (Rs 50 lakhs), Hyderabad Hunters

Son Wan Ho (Rs 50 lakh), Mumbai Rockets

Tai Tzu Ying (Ahmedabad Smash Masters )

The world no 1 has bragging rights over both Indian aces Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu. This year, the Taiwanese won four Super Series titles along with the prestigious All England Championships. She will be making her debut in the PBL this year.

Kirsty Gilmour (Bengaluru Blasters )

The world no 16 has twice been runner-up in the European Championships, losing out to Carolina Marin in 2016 and 2017. The Scot even one a Grand Prix title this year at her home event. But she played an almighty heave at the World Championships playing a turbo charged quarterfinal at home with her explosive jump smashes to almost deny Saina a medal. Expect fireworks.

Brice Leverdez (Chennai Smashers)

The 31-year-old journeyman has eight Challenger titles and a Grand Prix win to his name. The Frenchman is ranked 24th in the world. He famously ousted Lee Chong Wei from the Worlds – though he juggles badminton with his startup business.

Faceoffs

Guwahati

Sindhu (Chennai Smashers) vs Nehwal (Awadhe Warriors), December 23

Day one of the tournament starts off with a marquee clash between PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, as the Chennai Smashers take on the Awadhe Warriors. The two had recently met at the senior nationals in Nagpur, as Nehwal came up with a straight-game, yet tight win over the world no 3.

New Delhi

HS Prannoy (Ahmedabad Smash Masters) vs B Sai Praneeth (Hyderabad Hunters), December 29

The two heavyweights of Indian badminton will meet on the seventh tie of the tournament. Remarkably, they’ve met only thrice on the international circuit, the last meeting coming back in 2013.

Tai Tzu Ying (Ahmedabad Smash Masters) vs Carolina Marin (Hyderabad Hunters), December 29

The tricky world no 1 Tai Tzu Ying and Olympic Champion Marin have met nine times in international competitions, with the Spaniard trailing 5-4. The clash between the two is expected to be one filled with flair, deceptive play, and power.

Lucknow

Viktor Axelsen (Bengaluru Blasters) vs Son Wan Ho (Mumbai Rockets), January 1

Not much separates world no 1 Axelsen from world no 5 Son. They have met 10 times in international events, winning five each. Axelsen, the World Champion, levelled the head-to-head count in September, at the Japan Open.

Saina Nehwal (Awadhe Warriors) vs Tai Tzu Ying (Ahmedabad Smash Masters), January 2

Nehwal has faced her Taiwan opponent six times since 2014, but has failed to win a single match. Three of the six did stretch onto three games, but Tai Tzu has proven to be a thorn in India’s side.

Chennai

Saina Nehwal (Awadhe Warriors) vs Carolina Marin (Hyderabad Hunters), January 7

In a year where Nehwal has been trying to re-establish herself – after undergoing knee surgery last season – her win against Marin at the Denmark Open was one of the highlights. Marin meanwhile, has been a popular figure in India since her gripping Olympic triumph over Sindhu.

Offbeat attractions

Lee Hyun Il (Hyderabad Hunters)

At 37, the South Korean is one of the most decorated players in the field. The six-time Asian Games medallist is a former world no 1 and remains a fleeting threat.

Chris and Gabrielle Adcock (Chennai Smashers)

The husband-wife combo has been an expensive purchase for the Smashers – Chris costing Rs 54 lakh and Gabrielle coming for Rs 48 lakh. The pair is ranked fifth in the world’s mixed doubles charts and bring an interesting dynamic to the game.

Kidambi Nandagopal (Ahmedabad Smash Masters)

The lesser known elder brother of Kidambi Srikanth is a doubles specialist, ranked 199 in the world. Watch out for his backhand whip smash. With very few top international names in doubles, this is a chance for Indian pairings to shine.

New Teams

North Eastern Warriors

The region has long dominated India’s football scene. But in recent years, the region has started taking interest in badminton, especially in the youth level. With the North Eastern Warriors franchise, there will be greater exposure in an otherwise untapped market.

Ahmedabad Smash Masters

In the last few years, Gujarat has been trying to up their sporting quotient. The badminton franchise is another step towards it. For their debut season, they’ve bagged women’s singles world no 1 Tai Tzu Ying and men’s world no 10 HS Prannoy in their star-studded squad.

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